A Ray Of Hope

    The first time that I saw the stranger was in a small alley just off of Central. At first impression, he'd been on the wrong side of a bar brawl. His long black hair was matted to his darkly tanned skin, most likely with blood. I called out to him, offering my hand through the open window of my car. Slowly, he raised his head, looking to me with glittering eyes. Again, I called out.
    "Come... you are hurt. Let me help you."
    "Couel lia?" His voice was light, flutelike and yet somehow reedy in quality. The strange words came quickly, one leading into the other.
        I had no idea what it was that he had said, but I reached out again. "Please... let me help you."
        He nodded once, limping towards me. I opened my car door,
and once he was in, shut the door and drove off. I had to reach over him and belt him in for saftey.
        The entire trip was spent in silence. His breathing was soft, a light shallow sound, and I was afraid that I might be losing him to unconsciousness, or worse.
        As I pulled into my street, I glanced over to check on my passanger. His hair nearly obscured his face, matted to his cheeks. I could see his eyes, closed and tight at the corners, as if he was trying not to acknowledge his pain.
        "We're nearly there... it won't be long now," I offered.
        His acknowledgement was a simple murmur and a dipping of his head.
        I reached over and rested hy hand on his shoulder. Though my touch was light, I could feel his sturdy build. What had happened that he should have taken such a beating?
        I put my hand back on the steering wheel to turn into my
driveway and park as I turned off my headlights. I unbuckled myself, then got out, walking along the outside to open the passanger door and unbelt him. From how still he was, I was gripped with a sudden fear that somewhere along the way, I had lost him.
        "Hey... come on. Don't sleep just yet... you need to get cleaned up first."
        He opened his eyes slowly, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He managed, with my help, to get out of the car and leaned on it as I shut the car. We slowly made our way up the walk, and he leaned on the bricks while I unlocked the door. He stood waveringly, and I opened the heavy wooden door, swinging it inside.
        When we entered, the motion sensor tripped on the internal lights, flooding the room with light. My guest winced, turning his head and eyes away from the light.
        "It's okay... do you want me to turn it off?" I asked, watching him carefully for reactions.
        His voice was so light and flutelike. "Off...?"
        I reached out and flipped a switch, and the main light went off, leaving the duller area lamps on for low illumination.
        "Oh..." Again, that flutelike voice.
        "Is that better?" I asked, keenly aware that the stranger must have been in considerable pain. He moved with a limp, and I wondered briefly if he had broken something.
        "Better.... yes..." His voice was so soft... I felt so badly for him.
        I led him to the sofa, easing him to the cushions. "Stay right here... I'll only be a moment."
        I ran down the hall, and slipped into the bathroom, grabbing my first aid kit and dousing a washcloth with some warm water. Stepping back into the living area, I noticed that he had pulled his hair out of his face. Sharp angular features etched themselves into my gaze, yet somehow he seemed all the more fragile. Beautiful was the word. I think I breathed it.
        He looked up with large glimmering golden-hazel eyes, and I smiled as I approached, moving slowly so as not to alarm him. "Here... let's wash your face... clean you up a bit."
        "Face... yes." He reached up and held his temple. I could see that someone had hit him hard enough to break the fine flawless skin. At least his blood was red... and flowing down his cheeks with alarming speed.
        "You're bleeding badly... here..." I held up the damp cloth to his temple, staunching the blood as best I could. His hand touched the cloth, pressing the dampness to the injury as if he'd done this before. I shook my head, thinking a bath better for his condition. "No... we'd best put you in the bathtub... just let the water wash you gently... your clothing will need to be replaced."
        Those gold-hazel eyes looked to me and narrowed. "Bath...?" The word sounded unfamiliar to him.
        I nodded, indicating that he should rise. "Yes, come..."
        Slowly, he stood, wobbling badly once on his feet. He was small... but I wasn't much bigger... otherwise I got the impression that I could have picked him up and carried him with ease.
        As it was, I was able to help him to the bathroom, easing him to the floor as I turned to run warm water into the bathtub. "What happened to you?"
        "I... fell."
        His voice was so soft and light... I found myself wondering what nationality he was. As the bath filled, I helped him move into it, clothes and all. The water washed over him and began to tinge red with blood.
        "I'm Terese. Do you have a name?"
        He seemed to think it over for a bit, moving his hands under his legs. "Name... yes. Ray."
        I wasn't certain, but perhaps his injuries weren't so bad. I reached up with the damp cloth to wash his face, and he almost blushed (it could have just been the blood), reaching out to take the cloth from me. "I'll... bathe..."
        I blinked, then nodded. "I'll be right outside... if you need..."
        He almost gave a half-smile, then I slipped out of the room to allow him to bathe in privacy.
        My brother had left some clothing... perhaps something might just fit my visitor. As I searched the closet, trying to match sizes, I lost track of the time as it passed, and soon:
        "Eh... excuse me...?" The flute-like voice came from just beyond the door.
        I turned around, and blinked. He was small, yet slender and graceful even in standing still, bound in my bath towel, the cloth shockingly white against his dark golden skin. Eyes the colour of molten gold glimmered at me from his deeply tanned face. His blue-black hair fell just past his shoulders, tangled but clean. "Do... you have... something to..." His voice trailed off as he reached up to his hair.
        I nodded, and turned to my dresser to pick up my comb. "This is all I have... it might be different from what you are used to..." I held it out to him, and he reached up to take it. I held my breath as I realized that he only had three fingers and a thumb. I didn't say anything. I figured that he'd be sensitive about it.
        His touch was faint and quick, tingling as the comb almost seeming to leap into his hand. I gasped softly, and pulled my hand back. His eyes looked to mine, something quite akin to horror in them. "Did I.... hurt you?"
        "No! I'm fine. Really." My hands were shaking. It was too obvious that he wasn't normal... so who was he?
        "Thank you... Terese..."
        I grinned. "It's okay... really. I'm glad for the company."
        He looked up again, the comb running through the ends of his hair. "Company?"
        I nodded. "My brother died about a year ago. I still haven't had the heart to throw his things out."
        His gaze softened, and he nodded silently. He stepped inside the room, looking at my brother's awards and documents. "Your brother... was... a good... ...man...?"
        I smiled. "Yes... he was."
        "You loved him?" His voice was soft now, the gaze searching.
        I nodded, biting my lip. The pain still hadn't gone. "He was the most wonderful brother ever."
        A soft smile touched his lips.
        I changed the subject slightly. "The closet is over there... see if some of his clothes will fit. He was about your size..." I pointed in the general direction of the closet.
        He nodded, and moved to the closet, opening the door and briefly sifting through the clothing.
        "This... clothing..." He seemed not to recognize any of it as such.
        I moved to the closet, and pulled out one of my brother's dark teal button-down shirts, and a pair of black denim jeans. "Try these. They might fit."
        He turned away, nodding, and I got the most distinct impression that I should leave him to dress. "There... are underclothes in the dresser." I pointed as I slipped out of the room and closed the door. I leaned against the wall, steadying my breath. What had gotten into me?
        A few minutes later, he stepped out, the jeans successfully zipped, but not buttoned. The shirt was open and hanging loose, his long hair curling slightly at he ends as it dried. /God!/
        Actually, no. The jeans were rather loose, and I told him so. He was downright stunning... and it was more than mildly distracting. If the jeans had been tight... Enough of that.
        "They... are supposed to be like this...?"
        I nodded affirmation. "They are supposed to be comfortable."
        "Comfortable," The word rolled off his tongue as if an unfamiliar one.
        I nodded again. "Easy to wear."
        He drew up to his not-quite-so impressive height of what must have been four feet total. "Not easy to wear. Tight."
        I fought hard not to laugh. "Give them a try... they loosen as you wear them."
        He nodded, gold eyes narrowing.
        That expression unnerved me, and I switched subjects. "Are you hungry...? I have food..."
        The golden eyes widened. "Food. Yes."
        I smiled, turning to move down the hall. "My kitchen is small... but let's see what I have that you might like to eat."
        The soft sound behind me made me pause and turn around.
        He was leaning against the wall. As I approachedm he held up his hand, waving me off. "I think... I shall rest."
        Was he that tired and I just hadn't noticed? I opened the bedroom door again, turning to help him in, only to be waved off again.
         Turning down the covers, I watched him move painfully to the bed, eying it before attempting to put his light weight on it.
        "Get comfortable, and I'll go get you a pitcher of water for tonight."
        I left him laying back on the bed, running to the kitchen to fill a plastic pitcher with water and get a plastic cup from the cabinet. I tapped lightly on the door when I got back to his room, but finding no answer, bumped it open slightly.
        He was laying in the bed, and the lamp beside the bed was off. His breathing was even, and I set the pitcher and cup nearby. A bit of light caught his face, and I again marvelled at such beauty. Large eyes, a fine nose, high cheekbones... definately beautiful. I turned and pulled the door to as I went to my room and curled up in my bed, wondering.
        I slept, though not well, for my dreams were scattered and laced with dark and nameless terrors. I sat up and gathered myself, drawing my robe about my shaking shoulders. I was going to check on my... guest.
        His face too had haunted my dreams, those luminant golden eyes offset by his slender nose and small perfectly shaped mouth. I couldn't banish his visage from my mind, instead, the more I tried, the clearer he seemed. Oh, he was breathtakingly alluring, yes.
        Padding softly to his door, I listened for his breathing, then cracked the door slightly. As the light fell on him, I could see that his sleep was no better than mine had been. I opened the door more and tiptoed in softly to pull the covers back over him. He fretted in his sleep, tossing his arm out to the side and turning his head. The light from the hall now fell onto his face - and the most exquisitely pointed ear I had ever seen.
        I closed the door to my bedroom and sat back down on my
bed a bit too hard. The old springs groaned in protest.
        I hadn't asked about his fingers - I wouldn't ask about his ears. My mama taught me better than to ask people about thier differences, and she certainly taught me not to be impolite to strangers. And, yes, even for all his - differences, he wasn't as strange as some others I knew, so I was going to be as polite to him as I could.
        I lay back down, looking up at the darkened ceiling and then finally closed my eyes. Morning was coming eventually, and staying awake would do nothing for me.
        Dawn came and went, and I awoke with a start as a toilet
flushed. Oh right... I had a guest. I sat up and looked for my robe - moments before I realised I was still wearing it.
        Ah yes. Ears...
        I came out of my room in time to see him pause at the bedroom door, clad in a pair of my brother's blue denim jeans and a brilliant red silk shirt - again unbuttoned and loose about him. It made me weak in the knees, but I somehow managed to utter a soft "Good morning, Ray."
        He turned, those soul-breaking amber eyes regarding me from under black lashes. "Good morning, Terese..." Oh, if he were to smile, I'd be lost.
        I offered a half-smile, keenly aware that if he smiled back I'd probably swoon. "If you give me a moment, I'll be dressed and around to cook."
        He nodded, and I turned back into my room. Grabbing clothing at fast random, I finally decided to wear a black bodysuit and a pair of old but comfortable white denim jeans. On my way out the door to my room, I grabbed a red hair-ribbon and tied my hair back out of my face.
        He was seated on the sofa when I walked back into the living area.
        He was looking at a picture of my brother, frowning slightly at it.
        "That's my brother, Brian. That picture was taken only a few months before he died."
        Ray turned slightly to look to me with a soft smile. Oh Lord, don't let me fall! "He... looks like you," he offered. He looked better than he had last night, the cut at his temple healing nicely. Cut healing nicely...? Well... he was rather messy last night. Maybe he wasn't all that hurt.
        "Thank you," I replied, moving towards the kitchen. If I didn't keep moving, I'd probably sit down. He was absolutely breathtaking when he smiled. "Are you hungry?"
        "Hungry... yes...?" He replied, setting the picture down on the table and rising to follow me over to the kitchen. He moved easily now, with such grace and fluidity... I could almost swear that he wasn't touching the floor.
        Nonsense. I shook my head and pushed through the kitchen door, moving to the refrigerator and opening it. An eerie feeling came over me, and I rose my head from contemplation of the old cold cuts to see that the majority of all colour had drained from Ray's face.
        "What...?" His voice trailed off as he entered the kitchen, looking around in blank amazement. "Wh... wha... what is this... place?" He finally managed to ask, his voice gone to a hushed whisper.
        I stuck my head back into the refrigerator, and eyed the tupperware. "It's a kitchen." Hmm... rice? Beans?
        "Ki-chen," he echoed, looking with wide golden eyes over the refrigerator door.
        I really rather got the feeling he hadn't ever seen a kitchen before. Grabbing a bowl, I stood and closed the door, wary of his fingers.
        "Do you like macaroni and cheese?"
        Amber eyes blinked widely. "What?"
        He sure asked that alot. "Right. Nevermind." I opened the microwave, cracked open the tupper, then put the bowl in, tapping a few buttons as I closed the door.
        He jumped at the chirping. "What's that!?"
        "It's a microwave." I pushed the start button and looked to him. For all three minutes, he watched the microwave like he were a hawk, and the oven his prey. I almost laughed inwardly as I watched him.
        He jumped backwards, away from the microwave - I could have sworn he wasn't touching the floor - and his eyes glittered. "What did it do?"
        I stifled a giggle and opened the door. "Your dinner is ready," I told him as I pulled out the bowl. Hot enough.
        He blinked a few times at the microwave while I spooned out some macaroni onto a plate. A moment passed before he accepted the plate, absently taking the fork as he watched the microwave as if waiting for it to do something else.
        Plate, and food forgotten, he reached out and opened the microwave door.
        First, he stuck the fork in. When nothing happened, his hand followed. Still nothing. He peered into the microwave, as if looking in it for some answer to the secret. Scientific, almost. Intelligent, beautiful... obviously not human... so where did he come from?
        Spearing a noodle with the fork, he stood up and looked at me.
       "How do you make it work?" He asked, then bit the noodle off the fork.
        I pointed to the buttons. "You tell it how long to run, and what temperature."
        He reached out and touched a button.
        It beeped.
        He grinned, a fast display of emotion, pushing another button. Of course, it beeped again. So he pushed yet another.
        A grin, and...
        My poor microwave.
        At least the door was open.
        He took another few bites of macaroni before nodding over to me.
        "It's good."
        I pondered for a moment, then ventured to ask. "Which is good?"
        He poked at the macaroni with his fork, amber gaze looking to the noodles for a moment. "This... whatever."
        "Oh," I said. "It's macaroni and cheese. Thanks," He'd never had macaroni and cheese? He definately wasn't from around here!
        His lips formed the word 'macaroni' and he frowned at the noodles. "Long name for something small."
        I laughed. "I agree, Ray."
        His amber gaze flickered to me briefly as he softly stated, "You aren't like others."
        I blinked in mild confusion as he moved across the room and sat at the table. Setting the plate down lightly, he looked hard at me. His gaze turned serious as he extended his four-fingered hand. "You haven't said anything about my hands."
        I reached out and lightly took his hand in mine. Soft and warm to touch, his fingers reflexively curled about mine. "I didn't think it was an open subject..."
        He nodded, now watching his hand in mine.
        Silence filled the kitchen for a moment, then I reached to caress his cheek, using the oppertunity to brush his hair back up and over his ear. "...but why hide beauty?"
        His eyes widened, and I believe he would have gone pale if his skin were not so dark. "You... know...?" He whispered.
        I nodded, afraid to say anything, lest I scare him more, for he looked as frightened as a wild rabbit caught in the open under the midday sun.
        "Is that why you were hurt...?" I finally asked softly.
        He didn't answer, just looked at me with almost wild golden eyes.
        "I'm not going to hurt you, Ray," I offered softly, with a gentle squeeze to his hand.
        His eyes closed slowly, his lips parting in one word: "Rayek."
        I pondered the word (name!), looking at him, watching his almond-shaped eyes as I nodded slowly. Yes... it fit him... the otherworldly appearance needed a musical name... yet not so musical that the Good Lord's high heavenly angels sang it every time you turned around. However... He had seen fit to drop one of His angels in my lap, and I certainly wasn't complaining!
        "Rayek," I repeated slowly, my tongue fumbling over the odd syllables. "It's beautiful," It wasn't as pretty as he was... but still.
       He tilted his head, as if to try and understand my hesitance with what was his name. "You... speak it well..."
        So English was a learned language for him. It made sense, his sometimes odd shifting of pronunciation, and semi-often pauses in sentences. "You just said it for me... what language is it?"
        Blankness settled across his fine features, his overlong black-as-night hair obscuring his eyes as he looked downwards to the coffee table, and the drink I had set there for him. "Language...?"
        "You don't speak the same words I do...?" I offered, almost at a loss for how else to describe it.
        He picked up the glass, sniffing at the lemonade, then nodded at my words, understanding. "Tongue. It's..." He looked lost, as if he had no word for his own language. He took a sip of the lemonade, blinked, then set the glass down, carefully trying to keep me from seeing how -fast- he
put it down. I think he winced as he swallowed the semi-tart drink. Wonder what he'd do with most soft drinks...
        I smiled fleetingly, politely ignoring his actions, even though his eyes were locked to mine. "Then could you tell me how you know it? How you can speak it better in some ways than others of my people?"
        He shook his head. "I just... find the words I need. It's almost like I can hear them." He frowned faintly, then looked at me intently for a moment, his eyes nearly glowing. The hairs on my arms stood up, and I shivered involuntarily.
        I had the uncanny feeling that someone had just walked through me. Muttering the words of an old hymn under my breath, I looked back to Rayek. His expression was a cross of curiosity and mild alarm.
        "What is it? Something wrong?" I asked, leaning to look to him."
        "You... shivered," he said quietly, those eyes glimmering at me.
       He saw that? Lord Almighty, he was observant! "It's just a bit cold in here... that's all."
        He nodded, but his eyes plainly told me that he did not believe.
        I stood, gathering the dishes with me, putting them in the dishwasher, all the while aware that he was watching me as he stood slowly.
        Something had happened. He had done something, I was sure of it, and I had reacted. I wasn't certain who was the more unnerved: me, or him.
        "So... tell me about your people. Where do you live... what do you do...?" I asked, opening the door back to the living room.
       He stepped out and shook his head. "We live in harsh wastelands... where everything is dry and brittle."
        I watched him as he moved across the room. He moved almost like a dancer... smooth and with unconscious grace. I didn't think he was even aware of it... or even if he was aware that he projected such an intense force as to be akin to a self-contained storm, or other force of nature. He eased slowly onto the sofa, and I knew without doubt that he was still in pain.
        "You still hurt," I said, not offering him the chance to say otherwise. "Tell me where." I moved to his side, looking to the injury on his temple with critical eyes.
        He turned instead to look at me, his golden eyes glowing like old gemstones. "My side aches. It will pass," His voice was like liquid silver, sweet and soft all at once.
        I nodded, looking to him unabashedly, allowing him to see the worry in my eyes "I'd offer you something to help the pain, but I'm not sure you can take anything," I said weakly, aware that he wasn't used to being in pain.
        "I need a healer."
        I blinked thoughtfully. "Healer... as in a doctor? No... I don't think that would be a very good idea. If a doctor found out about you..."
        He nodded slowly, accepting the fact that he would be made into more than he was. "And I thought being master of the Palace was..."
        It was only a mutter, and I probably wasn't intended to hear it, but - Master of the Palace? Did this mean I had a Crown Prince in my living room? Oh Lord, I'd asked You for many a thing, but You've even outdone Yourself on this one!
        His electric amber gaze caught my eyes, and I smiled softly. "Tell me more about your people... or how you got here?"
        "How I got here... " he whispered. "I... was escaping an attack..."
        "Is that how you got hurt?" I asked, reaching out to check the healing gash at his temple a bit more than before. I brushed his cheek by accident, and his gaze jerked slightly, a flicker of something wild and unrestrained flashing behind his eyes. There was something almost animalistic about him... something feral that drew me to him like a moth to a candle's flame. Was he aware of it? Probably not. He didn't seem to be. "Is that why you were hurt?"
        He shook his head slowly as I watched him with barely repressed emotion. Who would want to harm him? What insane mind would want to hurt such a gloriously elegant creature?
        "Winnowill," he muttered.
        It felt as though he had answered my very thoughts. "Who?" I asked.
        He looked over at me and repeated the name. "She wanted to hurt me."
        I blinked.
        "You did ask me who wanted to hurt me?" he asked, an almost imperceptible frown marring his delicate features.
        "I... ah... no," I finished weakly.
        His amber eyes caught fire from within, and he narrowed his gaze at me. "I heard you."
        "Rayek, I swear. I didn't say a thing!" I said, almost instinctively backing into the sofa back.
        Those glittering eyes flashed brightly as they narrowed at me. "I heard you. It was as clear as if you had sent it."
        Something caught him up, gave him a sudden start, and his gaze turned deep, probing mine with unleashed intensity. "You did."
        "Honestly, Rayek!" I stammered as his gaze levelled on me. "I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about!"
        "No, you don't know, do you?" His voice was low and almost amazed. His jaw tightened, and again, every hair on my body felt like it was standing up. An odd tingling carried across my eyes, as if prickled by onions, yet not severe enough to make my eyes water. Something like a cool breeze blew through me, that cool rush similar to how you feel after a cold rinse after being in a sauna.
        "You're doing it again. What are you doing to me...?"  I asked, with more pluck than I felt. Saints preserve me, if he were an angel... what in the name of God would I do with him? I wasn't redy for an angel. I wasn't ready for something that big. If now was a time for my faith to be tested, why not openly admit to it instead of the hiding and the illusion?
        Like a fleeting whisper in my own mind, a word - a thought fragment hung, echoing in my own voice, but not mine at all.
        Huh? Thoughts??
        I blinked at him, to find his gaze gone calm and steady, lighter in tone, but ever as deep. "Settle your thoughts," he said, his voice soft and commanding, and I found myself compelled to obey - to clear my mind, to-
        ** Do you hear me? **
        What the Hell was that?
        He blinked, startlement colouring his gaze as he sat up and looked at me. "You heard."
        "I most certainly did, and if that was some kind of a trick, then I'd rather be told now than later," I said, looking at him most sternly. What I didn't expect was his stiffening and almost haughty glare back at me.
        "_That_" he said archly, "was no 'trick'."
        I looked at him, my nervousness keenly obvious. He sat back, sighing. "I... didn't mean that the way it sounded..."
        Now, I blinked. The angel was apologising to me? Me? A mere mortal? "No, Rayek... it's my fault. I'm just not as... gifted as you are."
        When he looked back up at me, his amber eyes were filled with almost heartbreaking dispair. "Gifted? How often have I heard that...?"
        His voice was almost shattered. It tore at me, and I found myself leaning over to kiss his temple lightly. There was a soft and sharp gasp of breath, and he jerked under my touch.
        "Why... why did you do that?" He whispered.
        I shook my head. "It seemed the thing to do at the time," I leaned back and sighed softly.
        He nodded quietly and looked to me thoughtfully.
        The word hung like a fragile jewel.
        ** Beautiful. **
        Oh no. No, no, no, no, no! This angel was not calling me beautiful! No creature as lovely as he was would ever think a person like me beautiful.
        Not in this world where blue eyes and blonde hair was the going rage... not to mention that old hourglass figure. I had no chest, so I had no hope.. Of course, I didn't let that bother me. Not at all. (About as much as prayer would allow... I mean if the good Lord in His wisdom had wanted me to be... busty... then He would have seen fit to do something about that, right? Well, then.)
        Those golden eyes glimmered at me as all of this flashed through my mind's eye. I got the feeling he heard it all.
        "I'm sorry... did you say something?" I asked politely
        A resigned look came into his eyes and he shook his head slowly. A soft sigh issued from those thin dark lips, and he looked back to the coffee table - and the picture of my brother.
        "Did you ever have the feeling that you knew how your brother was... or that you knew what he was thinking when he wasn't nearby?" He asked me softly.
        "Well... a lot of times, I got the feeling he was standing near me, but he's been dead for a few months now." I wasn't entirely certain where this ws going, but I'd tag along to see where I ended up.
        "Sometimes... I get that feeling with you."
        Me? I wasn't dead!
        Carefully holding any wavering from my voice, I asked slowly. "Me?"
       He nodded. "Like your mind is near me, thinking of me... but not quite reaching mine."
        Good Lord! Was this being sensing my thoughts when I tought of him? Was I broadcasting my thoughts loud enough, on a deep (or possibly shallow) enough level for him to 'hear' me?
        "I... don't know what to say... I'm very much alive, Rayek."
        He grinned softly and nodded. "I... have little doubt of that, Terese."
        I blushed softly at his tone. Something in his voice... perhaps the near-husky quality that I hadn't noticed in his light contralto tone caught my attention, for I had the more-than-vague impression that
something was passing between us. At a loss, I simply looked away towards the empty vase on the mantle.
        A sound drew my attention back to my guest as he stretched languidly, his actions reflexive of a cat's. I found him distracting - trying to decide if he were mortal... or something far more complex.
        I was really starting to lean towards the latter. To be this... sensual and yet seemingly unaware of it... if he were mortal, then I would be in a world of trouble, because that would mean that there might be a chance for me and... (well? I was available!)
        "Hmm?" His glimmering eyes caught my duller ones. "You were thinking something... I almost heard it."
        The involuntary blush prickled across my cheeks yet again, and I decided right then and there that those thoughts would have to stop. "I'm sorry, Rayek. I'll... be..." what did one call it? "I'll think quieter." By the Saints, that sounded odd.
        He chuckled softly. "If you wish it..."
        I looked back at him askance. Did he understand how new this was to me? The thought of someone able to listen to your thoughts... and speak in them...?
        "It is different, isn't it?" He asked conversationally, a grin on his face.
        The hairs on my arms stood. Had he heard my thoughts, or was he guessing? Mute, I nodded to him as I sat on the chair.
       "Am I bothering you, Terese?" His voice was soft, his expression one of earnest and something akin to worry.
        I forced a smile, and shook my head. "It's... just something I'll have to get used to, that's all. Maybe learning it might help set aside fear."
        He nodded slowly. "It is natural for my people to be wary of the unknown. When the others first came... there was great turmoil. We accepted there were others like us... but we did not exsist peacefully until much later."
        Something was beginning to sound familiar about this whole thing.
       "Tell me about it? Your people were... invaded?" I asked, my attention caught by the possibility of learning more about him.
        He leaned back in the sofa and began talking, weaving a tale of a group of people living in the desert, peacefully exsisting in what sounded like the single oasis in a great expanse of desert. He spoke of growing in the harsh environment, becoming the best at what he chose to do... and his
own personal need to be the best at everything he could be. He talked of his first and only love, someone who seemed to be the village medic, and how he persued her relentlessly, to no permanent avail.
        Then he spoke of the arrivals. How they upsurped his people, stealing and looting... then capturing the medic.
        He paused there, reaching to the table, and the water glass.
        It occured to me in a sudden blow that I -knew- this story. I stood, excusing myself for a moment, then went shakily into my brother's room. In his closet was a box, filled with his most precious of things. I wanted that box. There was something in it I needed to see.
         I opened the closet, falling to my knees as I reached into the darkness within. I pulled the old plastic box out, opening it and reaching in for the soft-covered book that I knew was at the bottom. I opened it at random, flipping coloured pages this way and that, until - yes.
        There he was.
        Coloured in brilliant reds and golds, with black hair pulled back from a deeply tanned face, flowing past pointed ears. The easily held catlike stance, and those slender four-fingered hands. Firey amber eyes in an aquiline gaze... undoubtedly Rayek.
        I glanced at the title. _ElfQuest - Fire and Flight_. Stunned, I flipped it back to the page my hand had saved and looked at the comic-book drawing of him again. It was hard to swallow, the cold thought that this was real... and sitting in my living room.
        The startled gasp behind me made me freeze.
        That soft contralto rasped with shock and denial. "What is that!?"
        "Oh, Rayek... it's... a... book," I finished weakly, my eyes searching his for the looking for the horror I expected.
        There wasn't any. They were gleaming brightly, but with what seemed to be a hunger, a passion for knowledge that he did not yet have. "What are those... marks?" He pointed to the words on the page, his eyes squinting as he tried to make sense of them.
        "They are words... things my people use to communicate," Well, it did cover it...
        He nodded slowly, squatting by me now to lift the book from my hands and examine the pages.
        "Your people cannot send, so you need these... words. But this is me. How can I be in this... book?" He flipped to a page with Leetah on it, and his eyes grew sad.
        'The books hold all your stories." I offered, looking to him gently. "Everything you have told me is in here." Were Wendy and Richard Pini aware of this? Was this where they got the idea...? Did they have an elf visitor? A High One perhaps? Oh Lord, how many elves were Out There?
        I vaguely felt like I'd been dropped into an episode of Star Trek, or the X-Files.
        He shook his head as he lightly touched the image of Savah lightly with a fingertip. "I must learn these. Teach me." There was no question in his voice, only firm desire.
        All right. I've got Rayek of Sorrow's End sitting beside me... the ElfQuest Graphic Novel #1 in his hands, and I'm supposed to teach him to read? I inhaled deeply, nodding to him. "I'll teach you, but it won't be right away... and you certainly won't be reading these. I'll have to go to the library and check out some easy-to-read books."
       He looked back at me, closing the ElfQuest in his hands and nodded."I will come with you."
        I opened my mouth, closed it, then opened it again to say, "I really don't think that's such a good idea. Whet if they see your ears?"
        He reached into the closet and pulled out my brother's L.A. Raiders ballcap. Putting it on over his ears, he pulled his ponytail through and looked at me.
        I pointed to his hands  "And what about your fingers?"
        He grinned. "I was born with them. I'll get by."
        I was outsmarted, and I got the distinct feeling I was outclassed.

        He was awake for this car trip... and it was daylight. All through the ride, he was glued to one window or the other, gasping at a light here and a car here. Often, he would exclaim softly in his light tongue, and about one-third I the way there, I asked him what the words were.
        "It's an exclamation of wonder. It literally means 'by the Palace.'" He said, blinking at a child on a bicycle as we passed.
        I was really rather glad that I didn't still have my old convertable: getting him to stay in his seatbelt was a hard enough chore... I didn't want to hink of getting him to stay in the car when a perfectly viable means of escape was so openly presented at any red light or stop sign.
        I started to sidetrack him by asking him different words in his language and I began to notice that it was syllabilic in nature. Like in Latin, each syllable meant something... and once the base syllables were learned, it would not be too hard to come to a close approximation for speaking the language as a whole.
        The library building gave him pause as we pulled into the parking lot.
        "It's large." He said, his voice a hushed whisper, staring up at the twenty-odd story building that housed the main branch of the city library.
        I laughed softly. "Wait until we're inside."
        He gave me an askance look, but nodded. "Very well."
        I led him to the door, and gently pushed him out of my way when he came to a sudden halt just inside the glass doors. "See, I warned you."
        The smell of thousands of old books wafted through the hallway, the seemingly endless rows of books nearly overwhelming in number, all of them near three times his height.
        He stepped forward slowly, his eyes wide, hands forgotten and at his side. "Wow."
        He had that right.
        I led him to the children's section, taking up a book of A-B-C's and sitting at an empty table with him. "Now..." I said, opening the book to 'A' "This is the letter 'a.' Ah... ahh... ahhh..." I offered, waiting for him to repeat me. I only got a rather bemused look from the librarian, and Rayek scrunched down in the seat, rather like a rebellious teenager.
       "Rayek, you have to learn to sound out the letters so that they'll make sense when you read them. It won't help your pronunciation of words, either." I told him as sternly as I possibly could.
        He looked balefully at me, then in an almost sullen voice, repeated the syllables for the letter 'a.'
        I nodded in approval. "Good. Now, show me where the 'a' is on this page."
        He reached out and pointed to the 'a' on the page, as well as the 'a's everywhere nearby. "There. There. Over there. Right there. Way off that way. Now can we move on to something else?"
        "Okay.. now the letter 'b'." I turned the page, showing him the letter, and a picture of a bumble bee. "Bee... bee... bee..."
        "Bee, bee, bee." Without my prompting, he pointed out the letter on the page, as well as few others nearby. "Now can we do something harder?"
        "C," I said, turning the page again. His sigh was slightly exasperated and he turned to look at a child who was watching him carefully. "Why is that child watching me?"
        I looked over, tracing the child's line of sight to Rayek's hands and sighed softly. "Why don't you ask her?"
        He leaned sideways, one hand dropping to his side as he looked to her. "What are you looking at?"
        She must have only been five, but she pointed to his hands and whispered loudly, "Your hands. Do they hurt like that?"
        He blinked blankly for a moment as he looked at them, then made an 'oh' sound. "No... I was born like this. It's normal for me."
        Her eyes widened, and she took a hesitant step forward "Can I see...?"
        He looked at me for a moment, and when I said nothing, he shrugged and held out his hand to her.
        She stepped forwards, lightly touching his hand with hers in that soft childish poke. When he lightly poked back, she gjggled, pulling her hands away, then reaching out to poke him back. For a moment, it was a game, but then her giggling got too loud, and the librarian 'shhh'ed.
        Both Rayek and the girl jumped, the girl darted off towards the adult books. "That wasn't nice," he protested.
        "It's a library, Rayek. It's supposed to be quiet in here." I replied. "Now, shall we begin with 'c'?"
        He scowled at me. "I still don't see how this will help."
        I wrote the word 'elf' on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. "Then tell me what that says."
        He turned it this way and that, looking at it before dropping it on the table and grumbled "C."
        We managed to get to 'g' before he lost all interest.
       "There has to be an easier way! I can speak the language!" He exploded, a series of 'shhhh!' issuing from the nearby librarian.
        I nodded, with more patience than normal. He was exquisite when angry or annoyed, as his eyes flashed with inner fire. "Rayek... there is no other way. This is how we learn."
        The golden eyes met mine, that eerie feeling tracing along my spine, his voice seeming to be all around me. "Show me. Think about those marks... think about the words."
        "Reading," I whispered.
        For an instant, a moment frozen within time, I could feel him all about me, within me and without me, then it was as intangibly gone as it had been.
        He nodded, satisfied. "I see... it's easy now..."
        Something eerie tingled me as I realised that he had spoken in his language... and I understood it.
        He glanced at the scrap of paper, speaking it in English. "Elf."
        "You... gave me your language... how?" My whisper was flutelike, the trills of the words rolling off my tongue as if I had spoken it my entire life.
        He smiled, leaning back. "Sends. Mind-to-mind."
        Telepathy. No wonder I could sense him. Mama always said I was sensitive to that, but I never believed her. Not until now.
                ** You see, the talent to send lies unknown until someone shows someone else, ** his voice tingled in my mind, crisp and clear... and as frighteningly close as my own thoughts.
        It unnerved me that I could hear him so close to my own thoughts, and he wasn't moving his lips at all. I think that made it worse. I chose to speak softly in return. "Let's go back to the house... and we'll discuss it there?"
        He nodded, rising from the table to wave at the little girl from before. Are all children like that here?"
        "No," I said as we moved towards the door, the librarian watching us as we went. Mostly our children are shy and withdrawn. It comes from the neighborhood. This isn't the best part of town... and right now there's a lot of things wrong with it."
        He pushed the door open and nodded. "Sometimes things are not as they should be, and children end up pushed into expectations that far exceed what they truly are."
        Once in my car, he leaned forward, pulling the hat off and rubbing at his ears. "My ears itch."
        I laughed softly. "I never told you to wear the hat."
        "Tell me something, Terese. Why don't you have someone? Certainly you have a lovemate... or a lifemate," He said, looking to me as I pulled out of he library parking lot.
        "I... I'm not what most men look for in a woman, Rayek  I'm withdrawn, and certainly not what passes for beautiful."
        Well, as long as he wasn't an angel, I knew there was no chance for us. I was a loner, that much was certain.
        ** Why? **
        Oh no. Oh... drat.
        ** Yes, Terese. I can hear you sometimes. Why are you a ... loner? ** His voice was gentle, a light touch of emotion.
        I.... I didn't know exactly how to answer, and sat quietly for a while. He smiled secretly and nodded to himself. He seemed preoccupied with something during the ride home, which wasn't nearly as long as the ride there had been. The entire problem with Christendon was those one-way,
one-car, fraught-with-pothole roads. But through the entire trip, he sat silent in the seat - yet I knew his mind was whirling with thought. I could feel it like a subliminal tingle of energy, akin to the rushing
feeling that comes before the pins-and-needles of a foot that has 'gone to sleep' as it wakes.
        I pondered. Was that what he had meant in the library? That we all have the ability... but it sleeps within us like a pinched nerve, waiting for the chance to awaken and be used? The thoughts rambled along in my head, and I was oddly aware of all the 'static' thought-noise. I'd never encountered anything quite like it before, and I found it quite interesting.
        I found myself hearing whispers of thoughts, voices I encountered along the way back to my house... and I realized that I was listening to everyone who was around me. How was Rayek coping with such a noisy group?
        He was thinking about me. I could tell it. His thoughts tingled within my range of sense like a steady and nearby whisper. I pulled into the driveway and parked the car, getting out as he escaped the seat belt, then the car.
        Once we were in the living room, he looked at me intensely for a moment before that catlike smile returned to his lips. ** You are attracted to me. **
        I froze. Oh, Holy God in Heaven! My own thought reached hesitantly out to him, I was that afraid to speak. ** You knew? **
        He leaned forwards, his glimmering gaze catching mine. His voice, what I now knew as his send-voice, rippled softly all about me. ** Yes I knew. I knew it the moment you stopped and called out to me. You heart spoke for you. **
        I knew I was blushing. Deeply, too, for my very soul seemed to burn with that red tingle. ** I'm sorry... for I know there is no hope for us. **
        His head tilted, his gaze almost crystallizing at mine. ** Why not? **
        My excuse was truly pathetic, and I think he and I both knew it. ** You... can't feel the same. ** It was the unspoken and unsent answer that we both felt. He wasn't Human. There wouldn't be a chance.
        He tilted his head, considering for a moment. A ghostly smile trailed across his lips, thinning them into a sliver of a crescent before his eyes returned to mine. ** And what if there were a chance? **
        I couldn't let myself think it. I clamped my mind down around the thought of a summer day and a picnic... but I turned and there he was, standing there in the light of the sun - and how breathtaking he was, the golden tone of his skin deep with rich accents, his long hair shining darkly in the light. He reached out, beckoning, and I tried to resist. I was failing fast as I shook my head to clear the vision -- and found him mere inches from my face.
        I held my breath, frozen, for behind me was the back of the sofa, and he blocked any side movement. His light touch felt like fire at my cheek, and I found it impossible to hold my breath for long with him so close.
        We shared the same breath, his eyes locking to mine, his send clear in my mind. ** There is but one thing that I know of that might keep us apart in that nature. It is called bloodsong, and inherent to my people. **
        ** Bloodsong...? ** I sent, queringly.
        Then, I heard it. Achingly sweet and crystalline beautiful, it shimmered about him with an odd sense. I could almost taste it, smell it... hear it. I felt it draw at me, pull and tug as if it were something that was wrapped about me.
        I gasped, sitting back. "Wow..." was all I could muster.  He looked a little pale himself, and I pulled myself back together with effort. "But... I'm still not a very desirable woman, Rayek."
        His eyes locked again with mine, glimmering brightly with something as yet unknown. That almost silken send-voice wrapped about me, numbing my awareness. ** Terese... why do you say such? **
        I thought fleetingly of models on today's fashion runways, those skinny fragile things on high heels who somehow seem to convey glamour and beauty. "Those are desirable, Rayek. Those are the women that men lust after."
        He drew back slightly shaking his head. ** You are quite desirable, Terese. **
        I laughed dryly. "Like I believe that."
        ** One cannot lie in sends, ** came his reply.
        I vaguely remembered that.
        ** Terese... here... see yourself as I see you... **
        I wasn't prepared for the ordered chaos of his thoughts against mine. Hell, I was even less prepared for what I saw:
        An image of a stately woman with soft features and black hair that spiraled to her shoulders from a ponytail. Her skin was the color of a rich mahogany, deeply contrasted by her simply cut clothing, tight at the bodice, and loose at her hips. A soft smile played on her full lips, and her eyes were quite expressive.
        "Leetah... I whispered." I knew his story, knew he loved her. That part was easy.
        ** No, Terese. **
        No? Who then?
        ** You. **
        This golden-skinned, brilliant eyed God (okay, okay, an elf)saw that when he looked at me??? It was unbelievable. I wasn't all that attractive...or was I? Brian had always said I was pretty... I took it to be the comment from him when he wanted something. Perhaps it had been something more...
        I was torn between several reactions. Fainting seemed the easiest way out, but it would just mean I'd have to deal with it when I came 'round. Besides, Mama didn't raise a fainter. No, fainting just wouldn't do, so I had one of two other viable options. I could stare in silent shock, be
wordless for a day... or I could yield to this overwhelming desire to kiss him.
        His eyebrows arched, as if to ask me why hadn't I reacted. I offered him the ghost of a smile and leaned forwards to brush my lips against his cheek. The near-tingle I felt was almost enough to catch me off guard and steal my breath.
        His hands came around me, clasping at the small of my back as his liquid eyes pierced mine. ** So. Now that I've gotten that cleared... what do we do about it? **
        I desperately needed a way out of this right now. I had to think of a way to settle this easily... or I'd fall as hard as he... obviously... had...
        "Rayek... I'm Human... how well is that going to work?"
        He paused, looking at me as if to study my face and eyes. I could feel him looking into me, sensing about at me as if I were some new and unknown thing.
        We were jolted out of our thoughts by the jangling of the telephone. Rayek leapt backwards, an amber haze shadowing his form as he hung startledly in mid-air. ** What is that? ** He sent in alarm.
        I reached over, catching the phone up to my ear as I sent in reply. ** It's called a telephone. It allows for a verbal sending... of a sort. ** Then, to the phone, "Hello?"
        "Terese? You missed karate class this morning. Are you okay?"
        It was my co-instructor at the fitness club. I winced, suddenly remembering that I had told Karen that I'd bring the new belts.
        "Karen...! I'm so sorry. Look... I had something unexpected come up... I'm going to have to be out for a few days... will that be a problem?" I fumbled at the cord with my fingers, fidgeting to be caught so totally flatfooted.
        "Uh-huh," she replied. "But he'd better be worth it, that's all I'll say." There was a faint giggle, then a click as she put the receiver down.
        When I looked back to Rayek, I knew I was blushing.
        ** You look odd. What is wrong? ** He sent.
        ** I... forgot that I was supposed to teach a class this morning. ** I sat up, tucking the phone into its cradle, looking to him as he landed with graceful ease. It vaguely occurred to me that I had just been saved by one of the biggest cliches in the entire world: the ringing of a telephone.
        ** My presence has distracted you. ** It was an observation... but an eerily accurate one. ** I'm sorry... please understand... I never meant - **
        I held up my hand and he looked to me, send fading into silence. ** First, ** I sent ** /I/ found /you./ Second, I chose to help you. None of that was 'your fault.' **
        He looked at me, askance, but I tilted my head and looked gently to him. ** Besides. Can't lie in sends. **
        A slow blush crept across his cheeks.
        ** I... really don't know... what to say. **
        I smiled faintly. ** Why say anything? Why not just be company for each other and enjoy what life has given us? **
        He blinked. ** I... hadn't thought of that. To accept it... **
        ** You don't accept things well, do you, Rayek? ** I asked softly.
        A wry smile formed on his lips, then grew across his face. Shaking his head ruefully, he sent ** I... must be in control. I don't react well when I am not... **
        ** And what if I gave you control of this? Right now? **
        Liquid amber eyes gazed deeply at me, setting fire to memories of my daydream.. ** I think we both know. **

        Oh we both knew where it would go if we let it. I wasn't sure if it was fear or what that kept us from considering it. Were we both afraid and just not willing to admit it? Either way, the moment had come to face the fact that I had feelings for... an elf.
        The doorbell sounded, and Rayek jerked his gaze to the hallway where the bell-box was. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the cliche-counter tacked another notch in the stick, and I reminded myself that I could consider myself lucky for these small interruptions.
        ** What's that? ** Rayek's send was highly suspicious, but not exactly alarmed... just wary.
        ** It's a bell to let me know that someone's here. Go down the hall... ** I sent as I stood up and made my way around the coffee table and towards the door.
        Like a flash, he darted into the air with a golden glimmer trailing behind and down the hallway, vanishing into my brother's room. I waited a breath, then opened the door. On hindsight, I opened it too wide, as a hand pushed the door out of my hands, as Karen leaned in against the doorway, then slipped in, shutting my door behind her.
        "So?" She asked in a whisper, her eyes laughing at me.
        I stepped backwards, inadvertently allowing her more access to the house. "So?" I echoed, stumbling slightly at the edge of the carpet by the door.
        "Yeah, so. Is he worth it?" Karen pressed, leaning towards me as she moved forwards.
        I blinked, staring at her. "Huh?" I wasn't the most eloquent in a crisis - but at least I didn't lose my head. It was one of my few talents.
        She scanned the living room, her eyes failing to find anyone. Her expression showed disappointment until she looked towards the hallway.
        I was aghast to find Rayek striding back into the living room, ball-cap in place, ponytail over a shoulder. He walked up and nodded to Karen -- whose eyes had widened considerably.
        "Oh... Terese. You _were_ holding out on me!" She looked him up and down before holding out her hand. "Hi, I'm Karen Simballa. Nice to meet you."
        Reflexively, he reached out and took her hand. Thank God Karen didn't always notice things, because she didn't react at his hands.
        "I'm Ray," his voice was slightly strained, but he managed an almost convincing smile.
 She smiled back to him, oblivious of his tenseness. "Ray... short for Raymond..? I knew a Raymond once... " At his expression, she paused. "No?  Well, Ray....what?"
        He blinked at her, then an almost-stunned send tingled in my mind. ** What is she asking for? **
        ** Oh... dear. We have last names. It's a... family name of sorts, ** I replied, uncertain how more to explain the odd custom we had.
        ** Family, ** was the returned send, accompanied by an almost wistful feeling and I wondered if the feeling was for family he left behind... or family he didn't have.
        That soul-breaking smile of his cracked slightly out from behind his staunch expression and he spoke only after a moment. "Ekuar. Ray Ekuar."
        I almost fainted with laughter. That _would_ be his chosen family name!
        Karen smiled her most brilliant smile at Rayek. "Well... I can see why Terese decided to stay home! Aren't you something? Where are you from, and are there any others like you?"
        I thought I was going to die of embarrassment. I could feel the blush creeping up my cheeks... but he seemed to take it all in stride, a faint smirk forming across his lips.
        "I... am from considerably out-of-town."
        Oh, he certainly was! I envied his ability to think on his feet. The good Lord above had decided that wasn't going to be one of my talents, so I had learned at an early age that deception and subterfuge was not to be my line of work.
        Karen seemed fascinated. "I'm from right here. Welcome to Christendon! We're the friendliest city in the state!"
        "Supposed to be, at least..." I interjected. Karen didn't know the state I had found him in.
        Karen nodded to me with a slight spread of her hands. "Yes... there are some who would rather Christendon be thier own personal town. But I'm not one of them, and Terese isn't either! So you've met two friendly people and that's a good start!"
        I wasn't certain who felt more cornered... me or him. I wasn't under her formidable yet rather clueless scrutiny, but I had let her in...
        I came out of my self-imcriminating train of thought to see that Rayek had leaned against the wall, one arm folded across his chest, the other tucked under his chin. "And when you say you are a teacher... you don't seem to be an Elder. How do you manage without the years of experience?"
        After a beat, I remembered to close my mouth and blink my eyes.
        Karen laughed softly. "Oh... I'm not the best... Terese is far better than I am, but someone has to teach these kids how to protect themselves. It's a dangerous world out there."
        He arched one slender eyebrow. "In the friendliest city in the state?"
        Karen shifted her weight, looking slightly trapped. "What we teach is applicable everywhere, not just here. Eventually, they'll go out of town and need the skills we impart upon them now, but I can see that I've interrupted long enough. Terese, don't worry about class in the morning... if you'll just give me the belts now, I can take care of it tomorrow for you."
        I breathed a soft sigh, turning to the hall table to pick up the small brown package. "Here they are... six red and five brown."
        She took them from me with a nod. "And the yellow are still on order?"
        I nodded. "He said that it would be a couple of days before he got the next shipment in, but that he'd call me when they are in."
        Karen sighed faintly. "Every once in a while, I wish we had enough students to be able to order our own uniform pieces."
        I grinned at her, aware that Rayek had opened the door for her departure, and was simply waiting for pleasantries to be exchanged. "Well... that would mean more work for both of us, you know."
        She laughed and nodded. "I'm with you, Terese. I'll give you a call Thursday morning. See you two later!"
        Rayek shut the door behind her and leaned up against it. "Well."
        I shook my head slowly. "Well, indeed."
        He walked over to the sofa, pulling the ballcap off and tossing it onto the coffee table. "She was...interesting."
        I laughed softly and sat in the other end of the sofa. "That was Karen. She's like a sister to me. Bossy, annoying, nosy... yet every inch a friend."
        Rayek rolled his eyes. "Reminded me of Shenshen."
        I started to giggle. "Yes... she does! Just like her!" It struck me as odd that I knew that when I'd only read the books, and never met the -actual- elf.
        I took a breath, the air oddly warm, and I opened my eyes to look into his golden ones. Oh boy.
        ** Terese... I... am - attracted to you. ** His tanned cheeks flushed slightly, a soft sheen broken across his brow. As I watched, his gaze shifted to study my lips, as if he were afraid to meet my eyes.
        ** Rayek... think about what you are telling me. I'm a human... you don't belong here. This isn't your world. ** I replied, a stab of pain clutching me at the thought of losing him, even to his own world.
        He sat back, shaking his head slowly. ** Right now, this is my world. Right now, this is where I am, so this is where I belong. If Timmain and the other High Ones had meant for me to be on the world of two moons, that's where I'd be. But they felt I needed to be here... and while I may be the Palace Master, even /I/ know when not to argue with a High One. **
        I felt a faint tingle rush across my skin at the touch of Timmain's name against my mind. It was something not quite felt... yet not quite ignorable as not having happened. With a reluctant sigh, I sent softly. ** Rayek... I... I'm attracted to you too... but I think our priority should be getting you home. It's not right to keep you here. **
        His eyes met mine, reading them for the longest time before he nodded slowly. ** I still say there is a reason why I'm here. **
        ** There might very well be, ** I conceded.

        ** Do you have any idea why a High One would have wanted you to be in my world? ** I asked, leaning back into the sofa, easing down among the pillows.
        He shook his head, steepling his fingers together as he leaned forwards to rest his gaze on the small glass figure of a dancer on the coffee table. ** But something directed me to be there. **
        I looked to him thoughtfully, studying the lines of his ears and the beautiful shading of blues within his perfectly black hair. His eyelashes curled upwards so gracefully, enlarging his eyes and seeming to make the brilliance of his eyes all the more intoxicating. ** What happened, anyway? How did you come to be here? **
        He sighed, lines settling into his face, all about his eyes and lips. It had the effect of making him look oddly wiser. ** Winnowill had once again come to the Palace and tried to command my soul for hers. **
        I shook my head, pausing as I remembered those 'final' issues. ** But I thought the Djun had cut off her head? **
        He looked blankly to me, his eyes narrowed slightly. ** Djun? **
        I grinned at him. ** You mean you didn't take the Palace forwards in time, and the Humans haven't built a Citadel? **
        A slender eyebrow raised, and an almost pleasantly bemused smile laced across his lips. ** I haven't enough of an ability to make the Palace move in time. Move across distance, perhaps. But not time. **
        I nodded slowly. ** What did you do when she came? **
        He chuckled faintly, leaning into me companionably. ** I told her unceremoniously to remove herself from the Palace, that she wasn't welcome, and she wasn't to return. **
        I wowed softly. ** And that's when she blasted you? **
        He laughed lightly. ** No... she stood there and looked at me for a moment, then tried to tell me that she knew I wanted her as my mate... it was just that dark healer who had my head turned around so far backwards that I couldn't see the future I had as a High One. **
        I giggled softly, watching Rayek's expressive hand motions... as if he were talking to her, he moved his hands with the words. I don't even think he was conscious of it, but he seemed so... relaxed... so at ease with himself and his surroundings now.
        ** Oh no... then what? ** I sent queringly.
 He looked over at me, face dangerously close to my own. It would be so easy to lean slightly and kiss him... I threw the thought from my head as he sent. ** I turned to walk away. **
        My eyebrows raised. ** And she zapped you? **
        He shook his head. ** No... she followed me. All the way up to the Scroll Room. ** He laughed shortly, a dry sound within his throat. ** Then she demanded that I give in to her will. **
        ** And of course you told her to get lost... ** I chimed in.
        He grinned over at me.
        ** That's when she blasted me. **
        I blinked. ** In the Scroll Room? With as much magic as she has? **
        He nodded. ** I remember the Scrolls flaring to life as her magic took me, then I remember the pain of being slammed against a Scroll... but it wasn't a Scroll at all, it was a dark wall somewhere. **
        ** The alleyway... **
        I nodded. ** How long had you been there? When I drove by? **
        He frowned faintly, thinking for a moment. ** Not very long at all. I think I was still fairly dazed. **
        I nodded. ** You said something after I called to you, but that was about it. You were pretty bad off. But you look much better now. **
        I leaned to him... my lips so very close to his... I could feel his breath on my lips, could smell his deep musky scent. His eyes had tracked to my lips, his own lips parted slightly, and I knew it was going to end with us both locked in a kiss... and I wasn't going to object. It was meant to happen.
        The clock chimed, scaring us both, giving us both cause to jump and resettle in different places, him against the back of the sofa, me leaning to the side.
        I felt his gaze settle on me again. ** Are we going to jump apart every time? **
        An almost-blush crept into my send, my eyes looking to his. ** I don't know why... I just jump... **
        He moved, a quick cat-like action that put him directly in front of me. ** Then here, ** His hands touched my shoulders, then they reached around to clasp at my back. ** Let me hold you. **
        I tilted my head to him, looking at him curiously. Did he mean it? But that was unimportant... for his breath was warm on my face, his soft lips touching mine so slowly... it hit me like an electrical tingle. The bloodsong was almost audible, running along the touch of our lips, tingling in his hands, everywhere his body pressed against mine as he held me close.
        It was almost breathtaking, the feeling that arced through me as if I weren't a human, and he weren't an elf. It gave me the distinct impression that I could fly... or more. But all too soon his lips reluctantly parted from mine, his eyes glimmering faintly at me.
        ** Terese... I... **
        He began to send as I interrupted him softly. ** Shh. Don't say a thing now. ** Somewhere along the kiss, my arms had moved around him and I held him to me, as if he were a memory so precious that I dared not let go.
        We stayed like that for a long time, listening to each other's heartbeat and breathing. No words were passed, nor sends exchanged, but I knew what he was feeling, and I knew that he knew what I felt.
        Finally, he broke the silence. ** Terese... do we dare...? **
        I sent softly. ** Perhaps. But we should go slowly... find where the differences will keep us at a distance. **
        He looked to me with a nod, then chuckled faintly, as he looked back to the table. ** What must I do for food here? I don't imagine one can hunt in here... **
        I pulled a total blank for a moment, then came up from the feeling of the bloodsong, clashing back to my senses. What on earth had brought that on? "Food..." I mumbled. ** The kitchen. I should have something in there. **
        The amber gaze flickered to me, then to the kitchen door. ** You do not seem well suddenly. What is wrong? **
        Drat his perceptiveness. ** I'm... fine. I just... lost my train of thought. ** It had been a long time since I had. It used to be bad... far worse when I was in school. But to lose myself to a bloodsong... I had never done that before. It left me feeling quite strangely.
        His gaze held me for some time, an almost imperceptible frown crossing his eyes. ** What were you thinking? **
        I blinked once or twice. ** I almost wasn't... it was like feeling a bloodsong, but I remember the strangest feeling...as if somehow I wasn't me. But I was me. ** I shook my head to rid the strange feeling from my mind. ** Did you want some food? **
        He nodded, his gaze still worried.
        I rose, intent on the kitchen door, but my body rebelled, motion turned strangely not my own, and I tripped, falling to the floor and hitting my head on the coffee table. There was a sharp burst of pain and an accompanied bright flash of light, and then I felt nothing at all.

        A throbbing awareness filled my senses and I opened my eyes slowly. It took several moments to focus, but eventually I did... and onto Karen's upset face.
        "Terese! Oh my God! Can you hear me?" She was frantic, her normal collected calm stattered, her voice shrill.
        "Karen..." I managed to whisper thickly. "How...?"
        Rayek's silken send caressed my addled mind. ** Someone called on your telephone box. She said that she was one of your students, Amy, I think. I asked her to call Karen and have her come back here. **
        As Rayek sent, Karen was busy shushing me. "Don't worry about that right now. We're on the way to the hospital."
        Hospital? I mulled that through my mind slowly as my surroundings swayed. It took a few more moments to realise that I was in a car... and Rayek was in the front seat, driving. A sudden flash of clarity hit me, and I knew Rayek didn't know the first thing about driving a car. "Rayek...! No!"
        Karen pulled me back ino the seat and firmly rested her hand on my shoulder.  "He's doing fine.  I got a little lightheaded, and he took over.  Must have been the sight of your blood... are you feeling anything at all?"
        "A... little... dazed... feels like my head isn't attached too tightly to my neck," I replied.
        She fretted at my collar, making certain there was nothing tight against my neck. "You can breathe, right?  Nothing in your throat?"
        ** She'll kill you with all that flurry of hers. ** Rayek sent softly to me. "Karen... will you please watch where we are going? I don't exactly know where this place is, if you'll remember. I don't live here."
        She straightened, her grip on me loosening slightly. "See that blue and white sign with the letter 'H' on it? That's the sign that will lead you to the hospital. You know that... it's the same in every state."
        The tone of his voice became agitated. "But what is the place called?"
        ** Christendon Community Medical Hospital, ** I sent to him, aware of Karen's sudden and almost crippling fear of the situation.
        "Christendon Community..." Karen whispered.
        "Medical Hospital," he finished for her.
         "I thought you didn't know...?" she asked in a small voice.
        "I saw a sign," was his near-growled answer.
        The car was silent for a while, nothing but the hum of the engine and the dull throbbing at the base of my neck to make me aware of anything nearby.
        Finally, Rayek rounded a corner and his send touched me again. It was filled with worry and pain. ** We'll make sure you're going to be fine... Karen promised me that your healers could. **
        ** And if they see you...? ** I asked weakly. ** What then? **
        ** We'll see if it happens. If it does... I'll do what I have to do, ** he replied, send low.
        The car came to a stop, and the door by my head opened abruptly. In a chaotic haze, I felt myself being lifted by strong arms, picked up out of Karen's lap, and carried to a flat hard-cushioned rail-thin bed. As one white-clad aide began to put straps across me to keep me in, the other began to push me into the hospital emergency room.
        I could hear Karen listing off things, but in the chaos of the nurse leaning over me with something, I couldn't hear what she was saying. Rayek's now familiar mental touch caressed me, and I managed to turn my head enough to see him leaning quietly against the car.
        The sudden jerk of the doors being opened by the foot of the rolling bed startled me, and I looked back forwards to see light upon light racing by above.
        "Terese... can you hear me? I'm Doctor Sara Rock. I understand that you fell and hit your head. What do you remember?" Said a blurry figure walking alongside of me, her fingers pressed to my wrist.
        "I... remember... walking. I was going to the kitchen... for dinner." I swallowed briefly, fleetingly glad that the motion of the bed wasn't making me ill. "Everything is blurry... not clear at all. I hit the table, didn't I?"
        "Is that what you did? Hit the table as you fell?" Her tone was that of one trying to humor someone. "You'll probably be fine, but we have to run a few tests and get some x-rays just to be certain that you didn't hurt yourself seriously. We'll most likely keep you overnight and run a few final tests in the morning."
        Overnight? What would happen to Rayek?

        My sendless question didn't get an answer as they pushed me into a room with an x-ray machine. The x-ray procedure took maybe fifteen minutes, during which most everything was a dull blur.
        Finally, they wheeled me into a room and moved me to a real bed.
        "Okay, Ms. LaRue. We'll give the x-rays some time to develop and let you rest in here for the time being," Doctor Rock said as she patted my hand while the nurse adjusted the I.V. in my wrist.
        After they left, I reached up to the back of my head. It was bandaged... I didn't remember them bandaging me... and it struck me that the dull pain was gone from my head.
        I lowered my hand, trying in vain to remember when they had given me the I.V. or the bandage.
        The door opened a bit, then closed just as slowly. The overhead lights were off, and my vision was only slowly clearing, so I blinked about in the blurry darkness. "Hello?"
        ** Shh. They'll find me in here, ** came Rayek's reply, followed by the touch of his warm hands against mine.
        ** Rayek... I'm sorry about this... I really am. ** I sent quietly.
        ** You fell. You didn't mean to. ** His send was oddly comforting, even if the words didn't seem that comforting. ** Just rest. **
        Rest. That sounded so easy. Why wasn't I tired? Oh well, that didn't matter much. ** How did you manage to drive the car? **
        There was a soft mental chuckle - as if chuckles could be a sound felt by the mind! ** Karen's mind was obliging enough with the basics. For that I owe her an apology. **
        I would have shook my head if it weren't for the thought that it might make me dizzy.
        Outside my room, I could hear voices as doctors and nurses passed by, and Rayek's hands slipped from mine. ** I'm still here... just under this platform. How do you feel? **
        ** I've felt worse, I think. My headache is gone... and they've bandaged me. ** I didn't let him sense that I remembered neither happening. ** So now I just wait for the doctor to tell me if I've broken myself or not. **
        ** I'm glad you are awake. I've seen elves die from less. **
        Such a solemn statement! It seemed all the more sad when put in his frame of reference. Once the lovemate of a Healer... now lost in a world that couldn't and wouldn't understand him. It made me want to somehow hold him safe from the horrors that I knew this world would present... somehow made me love him all the more dearly.
        As I was reflecting on this, the door to my room opened and the overhead light was abruptly on, flooding the room with brilliance. "Ms. LaRue? Your x-ray showed no fracture of the skull... but the bloodwork turned up some unusual results. We'll just keep you here for the night, and do some more labwork in the morning."
        But I didn't want to stay. "Can't I just go home...? I really don't want to stay here. I don't even have toothpaste..."
        The intern raised his hand. "I'll bring you some. But for tonight, you can consider this room to be home."
        He turned and stepped out, the door shutting slowly behind him.
         Rayek appeared within my line of sight. He was covered in blood, mine by the lack of any apparant wound to him. ** You should do what the healers say. It won't do to upset them. ** He sent pointedly.
        ** What about you? ** I asked.
        ** I'll be nearby. I have to go tell Karen that you're okay... but I'll be back. ** He kissed my cheek lightly, then turned and after peering cautiously out the door, slipped out into the hall, shutting the door behind him.

        The hospital room was quiet after Rayek left, only the occasional chirp from the ever-monitoring machines breaking the near-dead silence.
        I turned my attentions to the I.V. bag, curious to see what it was that they had deemed necessary to give me. There was blood in it. Had I lost that much when I gashed my head?
        I really had no way to know... I didn't know how long I had been unconscious, but it would account for the general laziness and dizziness. But what of the lack of tiredness? I thought one was supposed to be tired when blood was lost?
        As I lay there thinking, I noticed that my veins seemed to tingle faintly, as if the fresh blood was full of fire and youthful energy. Something told me that it wasn't right... that something strange was happening, but I found no desire to call the nurse in.
        The door opened, and Rayek slipped back in, ballcap slipped securely over his ears. ** There. Now I don't have to hide. **
        He looked about, then pulled a chair over by the bed.
        I offered a feeble smile to him and he rested his hands on my own. ** You look like I felt that day you found me. **
        I smiled feebly, trying to laugh, but finding laughter something too far from my reach. ** I don't hurt.. I'm supposing the doctor gave me something for that. At least they bandaged me, right? **
        He nodded, looking critically at my face. ** Your eyes are bright. You don't feel well, do you? **
        I sighed and shook my head. ** It's a strange feeling... like they are giving me something I'm allergic to. My veins tingle with an itch. **
        Rayek stood abruptly. ** I don't know much about your people... but when my people have something like that, it isn't good. I'm getting someone. **
        He was out the door before I could ask him if that was an altogether good idea.

        Some few minutes passed before a nurse bustled in, Rayek right behind her, speaking authoritatively. "She says that her veins itch. Is she allergic to that?" He pointed to the I.V. bag.
 The nurse frowned at the bag, squinting slightly before looking to me, then him. "No... it's straight a-positive blood." With a frown, she took a syringe out of her pocket and swabbed at my free arm before removing the sterile cap and drawing some blood. With another glance at Rayek, she left swiftly.
        ** There's something wrong, ** he sent grimly. ** I sensed her concern easily. You're ill. **
        I looked away, unable to meet his eyes. ** I can feel it, like my body is on fire... but it's not a real fire... it tingles like your sends first did. I don't know how else to describe it. It's not painful... just barely nerve-riding... sitting in that fine edge between pleasure and pain. **
        He frowned, his eyes narrowing slightly. ** I wish I were a Healer, Terese... I would help if only I could. **
        I nodded slowly. ** Just your being here is enough. **
        The door to my room opened, Doctor Rock and a nurse came in, the nurse carrying various tubes and looking agitated. Before I could react, a thermometer was in my mouth, Doctor Rock taking my blood pressure as the nurse pulled the I.V. off of my arm. At Doctor Rock's nod, she began to draw blood from the remaining unit in my wrist.
        Plucking the thermometer from my mouth, she eyed it, then looked to me. "We're going to run some tests on your blood now, and you'll notice your head begin to ache slightly in the next twenty minutes or so. We can't be certain if it is the painkiller making you feel this way, but we aren't going to give you another dose until we isolate that it isn't."
        I nodded, aware that Rayek had conveniently stepped into the bathroom when the two had burst in. At this, he stepped out, pressing his hands together. "I'll go tell Karen there's been some... complications." ** Sit tight. I'll be back when they leave. ** I felt him send.
        Rayek turned and pushed the door open, vanishing into the hallway outside.
        Doctor Rock updated my chart as the nurse finished filling the tubes and took the entire mess out of my arm. She swabbed it for a moment, then stuck a band-aid over my wrist. "Now you just rest, and I'll bring you something to drink shortly."
        I nodded mutely and watched them leave.

        It was quiet in the room after they ran thier barrage of tests. Outside, I thought I heard Rayek and Karen's voices among some din. After some careful placing of hands, I managed to stand and make my half-woozy way to the door. As I opened it, I heard a shout, and I saw Rayek's back vanishing out a door. I knew it. He had been spotted.
        ** Rayek...! ** I sent, frustrated by the fact that my feet didn't want to work. When I didn't get an answer, I half-growled at myself and moved. I had to find him... had to keep him safe. Such a fragile thing... he wouldn't make it on his own.
        I made it out of the hospital, sending for him. By listening, I heard a group of people, and I followed the noise. Through the park I went, running as best I could, hospital gown flapping loosely about me, head aching.
        I lost the sounds about a block out of the park, and stood looking around frantically. ** Rayek!!! **
        His return was weak, but close. ** Dark... where you found me before... **
         The alley. It mustn't be far... I hobbled my way towards where I had felt the send, things feeling strangely separate from me. It felt like moving within a dream, my veins on fire all the more from the physical exertion.
        In the alley, I managed a send before I stumbled, falling headlong into a dark shadow - to be caught by Rayek's glimmering magic, then his arms.
        ** Terese... you shouldn't have followed... you're hurt! You're... bleeding... ** His send turned quiet, muted by something I couldn't sense. The tingling fire was pressing up me now, filling my awareness and pulling me from reality.
        "There they are!" came a voice from the street. A flashlight shone upon us, and footsteps began to echo in the alley.
        ** Terese... I can fly... but I can't carry you as well... ** His mind touched mine softly, filled with chagrin and regret.
        ** Then go... get away from here. Come back when it's safe. ** I sent, vaguely aware of the tingling against my mind. The fire was at the back of my head now, lacing along those precious abilities that Rayek had awakened within me.
        He shook his head, holding me close, even though the others were on us, tearing at me to get to him, screaming at his ears and hands. I was torn out of his grasp, his rough yet silken voice calling out at me, I called back, but was too far from his reach... they pushed over me, shoving me farther away... and then it struck.
        Like a mental scream, the fire tore at my senses, tearing through me,  for something distinctly *opened* in my mind. My sends were taken by the fire, torn from me yet still held by some adamant part of me that refused to give up the new abilities.
        As I gathered myself to send to Rayek, a send, far more velvet than Rayek's or my own laced through the alley. ** Rayek...? Where are you? **
        ** Leetah...!? I'm here! **  Rayek's send came through me like liquid fire, searing my thoughts.
        There was a blazing light in my mind, and Rayek's presence all but vanished from me. ** Rayek! ** I sent franticly, the fire blazing within my mind as I forced the send again.
        ** Terese...? ** His send filtered through the pain and fire that my mind had become. I couldn't see for the pain, and I clawed at the mob that had come at us both.
        ** Go on, get free! **  I made myself send, the pain white-hot within my mind. An involuntary scream tore through me mind, sending to him, then someone stepped on me and blissful nothingness overtook me.

        The rift torn in space was slowly sealing, the undeniable pull of the space-time continuum forcing the wound closed. Those holding the rift open were tiring, and the golden glimmering one knew it.

        No sooner had Rayek's feet found purchase on the crystaline floor of the Palace, had he turned to see who it was that had facilitated his timely retrieval. He was not at all surprised to see that it was Suntop spinning the Scrolls, nor Leetah giving her son strength. What gave him pause for a few precious moments was the sight of Venka, her magic gone almost nearly as wild as Winnowill's had been.
        They were moments he couldn't truly spare. The rift was closing menacingly threatening to cut him off from... from what? A Human? He shook his head angrily. She was more than that. He had to do something to help her.
        The send was rough. ** Hold it open. **
        ** Rayek... ** Leetah sent raggedly, her jade-green eyes looking to Rayek's amger ones. She was taken aback by the fiercity she saw held tightly bound within them... a look akin to one she saw Cutter once give Winnowill when his blade was pressed to her throat. She said nothing, but flowed anewed strength to Suntop, knowing it was to be at her cost.
        ** Black-hair, are you nuts? That's a Human back there! ** Cutter sent, stepping out of the shadow that Leetah had bade him occupy. There was no way he'd let that black-haired devil with an overgrown ego bring the enemy into the Palace of the High Ones.
        Rayek didn't give Cutter the fight he wanted. ** Hold it open! **
        He stepped back through the rift, landing lightly on the pavement and moving quickly to the crumpled body of the Human that had befriended him so.
        With graceful ease, he lifted her into his arms and carried her towards the rift. As he moved into it, he could hear Leetah's incredulous send. ** Rayek...? **
        Silent, the brownskinned elf carried the limp Human into the rift. With a soft hiss, the rift sealed behind him.
        Then, there was silence.
        The alley was empty.